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Roberts loses ‘Good Neighbor,’ beloved friend

Leland Johnson, Roberts 2004 “Good Neighbor,” and his wife Kathleen on a family trip to Carthage, Mo., in 2011. Johnson passed away on Feb. 17. (Photo submitted by Jean Johnson)

One of Roberts’ most beloved “Good Neighbors” passed away on Feb. 17 from complications after heart surgery at United Hospital at the age of 76.

Leland Johnson was voted as Roberts “Good Neighbor” in 2004 along with his lifelong friend Mary Grupe.

“He was shocked and honored,” Jean Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Croix Central Middle School, said of the honor given to her father. “But it was a surprise to him as he just did what he did because that’s who he was. He would have kept on doing those things even if he had never been recognized.”

Friends and Jean said it was a common sight to see Leland around town, riding along on his lawn tractor, helping out whomever and wherever he could, whether it was blowing snow, plowing gardens or mowing.

“I’ve known them forever,” Roberts Village Clerk Doreen Kruschke said. “Leland plowed our garden. We went to wrestling together. It’s a shame to lose someone like that, and he wasn’t even that old. He was helpful in the community, mulching, tilling gardens, mowing. He was an all around good guy.”

Charlie Grupe was Leland’s best friend for more than 60 years. They went to school together and according to Grupe, did everything together.

“He was a very nice guy that would help out anybody,” Grupe said. “I sure miss him. We were always together.”

Leland was born on June 10, 1937, in the Town of Hudson to Leroy and Margaret Johnson. He had three children from his first marriage: Leianne, Bradley and Kurtis. On Dec. 17, 1966, he married Kathleen Hall. They were married for 47 years and had three children: Renee, Jean and Brian.

“One of the things I will always remember about my dad is his devotion to my mom,” Jean said. “Their relationship was a strong one and through that relationship we learned many things about trust, loyalty, respect and unconditional love. It was one of the greatest gifts they gave us: an example of what a marriage should be, in good times and in bad.”

Leland worked for St. Croix County road maintenance for many years, before working in the display and trade show business in St. Paul for 35 years. He retired in 2000.

According to Jean, he loved playing card games, music, dancing, being outside, gardening, blowing snow, hunting, mowing lawn, supporting his children and grandchildren’s activities, snowmobiling, Green Bay Packer football and St. Croix Central and Hudson Raider wrestling.

“This past weekend is the first time in over 20 years he wasn’t at the WIAA State (wrestling) tournament in Madison,” Jean said.

Leland worked for the St. Croix Central Wrestling Association since the late 1990s when his son Brian was in high school.

“Up until last year he was in charge of picking up and delivering the majority of our tournament supplies as well as our fundraisers’ supplies,” Jean said. “For years and years he was our ‘candy window’ guy in charge of making popcorn and selling candy. Most importantly was the time he spent in the stands supporting the boys.”

Jean said she can’t pinpoint a favorite memory of her dad, but holds a great many close to her heart. She named snowmobiling together at their cabin in Brule and his outdoor passion as two that come to mind.

“My dad was someone with a strong work ethic and a generous spirit,” Jean said. “He often combined those two things to help others, not because he thought he would gain something from it, but because it was what he felt was the right thing to do. I would like him to be remembered for his quick wit, his love of life, his laughter and his loyalty and devotion to both his family and friends.”

Brenda Hackman, director of the Hazel Mackin Community Library, said “there’s a lot of love in that family.”

Leland’s family asked that memorials be given to the library or the United Church of Christ building fund.
“My grandma (Lois Hall) was extremely active in the development of a library in Roberts and we, as well as my dad, support that endeavor she began long ago,” Jean said. “We are a family that believes in education which the library supports, but more importantly, Dad supported the library because it is something the entire community can enjoy.”

Pastor Melinda Feller of the UCC in Roberts described Leland as a humble, quiet servant of the Lord.

“He was very faithful to the church,” Feller said. “He was here every single Sunday in his pew. We truly appreciated him.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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